- Kamakshi Tandon
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WIMBLEDON, England -- When you beat Roger Federer five times in a row, he doesn't forget it. "He was my dark horse," Federer recalled, looking ahead to his third-round matchup with David Nalbandian. "I've been able to turn around the head-to-head, but he still remains one of the great players from my time."
The two have a long history that goes back to the juniors, having played the boys' U.S. Open final in 1998. "In juniors I could play him," Federer said. "But then after that, when we came on tour, we had some really close matches, big matches actually, against each other. But he always had sort of the better end of the matches, just because he was so tough early on.
"I still had some work to do, some figuring out how I was really going to play. I used to panic and run to the net against him because I couldn't hang with him from the baseline. Later, I started to enjoy the challenge against him because he's one of the cleanest ball-strikers in the game. His backhand is obviously a shot like almost no other on tour."
After losing his first five matches against Nalbandian, Federer turned the tide to take seven of the next eight -- and even that one loss came in a tiebreaker in the fifth set at the Tennis Masters Cup in 2005. Two years later, the Argentine struck back, coming out of nowhere to take back-to-back wins at the indoor Masters events in Madrid and Paris and going on to win both events. The following year, Federer took both their meetings to edge ahead 10-8 in the head-to-head.
This latest meeting between the six-time Wimbledon champion and the 2002 finalist comes after their paths have diverged sharply.
Nalbandian has been constantly injured for the past couple of years. His latest problem was a groin injury in April, and illness forced him to withdraw from the French Open last month. He looks thinner than usual and came into Wimbledon having played just a couple of matches at Queen's two weeks ago. He arrived at this point with the help of a fairly easy draw.
Playing Federer will be another level altogether, because the Swiss has kept his recent good form going in the early rounds. But Federer will also be wary in case Nalbandian can take inspiration from their past battles.
"I'm looking forward to the match," Federer said. "It's a wonderful third round. I wish I could have had an easier one, maybe, but I know the danger against him. He can prove his point. If he's weaker or stronger than three years ago or eight years ago, we'll find out. But I'll be as well-prepared as I can be."
Making sense of Centre Court scheduling
Serena Williams took a swipe at the Wimbledon seeding committee after being put on Court 2 for her second-round match, observing that she and elder sister Venus are frequently scheduled to play outside the two main stadiums despite having won nine of the past 11 Wimbledons. "They like to put up on Court 2, me and Venus, for whatever reason," Serena said. "I haven't figured it out yet. Maybe one day we'll figure it out."
Venus is the 24th seed and last won the event two years ago, so her Court 2 assignment for the first round was reasonable. The five-time champ played her second match on Centre Court. Four-time victor and two-time defending champ Serena opened proceedings on Centre and played her second match on Court 2. Serena is only the eighth seed, but that hardly seems to be a controlling factor, either. No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has seen action only on Court 1 and 2 so far.
Part of the dissatisfaction comes from the fact that there is no sign of either Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic -- or even Andy Roddick, for that matter -- going off Centre or Court 1. Roddick, who was surprised to be assigned to Centre for his second-round match, must have been stunned to be back there for his third-round encounter as well.
"Yeah, they've never moved across," Serena said. "Actually, Venus and I have won more Wimbledons together than a lot of the players, by ourselves, in doubles even. So, you know, at the end of the day, I don't know.
"They're not going to change, doesn't look like.
"I don't make it a big issue. I think at some point maybe I should. I don't know."
At the back of her mind was likely last year's disappointment at not being scheduled for Centre Court for the Queen's visit last year, after Serena had spent all that time practicing her curtsy. And the year before, when she was relegated to Court 2 while Wozniacki and Maria Kirilenko took center stage, with a tournament spokesperson admitting that "good looks are a factor" in court scheduling.
By this point, the Williamses have every reason to feel slighted. But is there any method to the committee's madness? They certainly have been right on with their women's picks for Centre Court the first four days of the tournament. Each one has been one of the best matchups of the day, and each also ended up going the distance (Maria Sharapova's first-rounder, a straight-setter, was slotted into the lineup later). A couple of those Centre Court contests have been classics -- Venus Williams holding off Kimiko Date-Krumm and Sabine Lisicki upsetting Li Na, both ending 8-6 in the third set. Ticketholders or TV viewers cannot complain about the quality so far.
The top men who have been scheduled for Centre Court, meanwhile, have been cruising. Apart from Robin Soderling and Lleyton Hewitt's five-setter, not a single men's match has gone the distance, and only one has gone four sets -- that was Murray, who won the last two sets without dropping a game.
Organizers have to offer a balance of competitive play and big names to satisfy ticketholders, and it seems the women have been tapped to do battle, while the men provide the star power. It's a fair reflection of where the women's and men's games are at the moment: Anyone can beat anyone on the women's side, so there are a lot of early close encounters. The top four men, by contrast, are almost utterly dominant and rarely threatened in the early going.
Only three matches are scheduled on Centre Court and Court 1 each day, usually two men's and one women's. When the best-of-three women's match goes long and the best-of-five men's matches go quickly, the time load is just about right. So far, it's been working out -- for everyone but Serena and Venus.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
10hMichael C. Wright